Louniel Waterfall was really our waterfalling excuse to praise the Mt Yasur Volcano, which like the waterfall was also on Tanna Island. That said, it turned out that the falls itself was no slouch as it was probably the most vertical and classical of the waterfalls we had visited during our short trip to Vanuatu, and thus it was one of the more photogenic ones. A further bonus was that we got to cool off from the tropical heat and humidity in the cool spray and plunge pool of the falls itself. So all around, Julie and I were quite pleasantly surprised with this visit, and yet it was merely the opening act to the twilight spectacle that was the unforgettable Mt Yasur.
The thing about this waterfalling excursion was that we managed to do it in the morning while doing the Mt Yasur Volcano in the twlight hours. We really didn’t have a choice since we only had one full day on Tanna Island given the infrequent flight schedules (I believe they only flew three times a week between Port Vila and White Grass Airport on Tanna). I can imagine that had we been able to spend another night on Tanna Island, we probably could have visited at least one or two more waterfalls or even partake in a kava drinking ceremony, but I digress. The bottom line was that the Louniel Waterfall excursion was certainly worthwhile and it definitely fit within a day that included a visit to Yasur at twilight.
After booking our tour through the resort (we had stayed near the airport mostly for logistical reasons), we were then picked up the following morning at about 8am. The tour included not only a visit to the Louniel Waterfall, but it also included a visit to the black-sanded Louniel Beach as well. At first, they thought we might not be done with the excursion earlier than 2:30pm, which was the scheduled departure of the Mt Yasur excursion from the resort. Under that circumstance, we would’ve gone straight to the Mt Yasur volcano from Louniel Beach. However, it turned out that we were able to make it back to the resort by 1:30pm, then leave with the rest of the mates staying at the same resort as we were at 3pm (rescheduled from 2:30pm). So I guess depending on how much time one would want to spend at the beach, the duration length could easily be as little as 4.5 hours or as long as 6.5 hours. Our driver seemed pretty flexible.
So after being picked up from the resort, we then were driven on a fairly dusty and bumpy road towards the eastern side of Tanna Island. After roughly 30 minutes on the unsealed road, we then went onto a much narrower and rougher bush road leading to the Louniel Village. That was when we were greeted by three local kids from the village who turned out to be our guides. After a few more minutes of driving on “roads” that seemed more like a foot path than a place a 4wd could go, the car then stopped at a somewhat unmarked and unassuming spot in the jungle (roughly an hour from the time we left the resort). At that point, the driver stayed behind and we followed the three kids on a steep downhill path going right into a thick bush-clad gorge.
We had worn reef shoes on this excursion so we had to tread carefully on the steep and potentially slippery trail, but the kids were either barefoot or in flip-flops, which attested to how well they have adapted to their environment. Roughly 15 minutes later, we made it to the bottom of the trail, deposited us right in front of the impressively tall Louniel Waterfall (possibly 20-30m tall), and that was when we had spent the better part of an hour cooling off in the cold stream at the base of the falls. Since this was more of a traditional hike (as opposed to a river float or swimming excursion), we were able to bring a tripod along with my DSLR camera to capture the action. For once, a dry bag wasn’t necessary.
After having our fill of the falls, we then returned to the awaiting truck after 15 minutes of heavy breathing from the all-uphill climb. At that point, we were then driven onto a different bush track that eventually led to a clearing surrounded by palm trees with coconuts as well as grazing cows. And from there, we hiked down another 15 minutes to the black sand Louniel Beach, where we would relax for the next hour or so before returning the 4wd vehicle to head back to the resort.
Since we didn’t self drive Tanna Island (I’m not even sure that’s possible for most tourists given how undeveloped it was), I’d imagine the Louniel Waterfall would only be accessible by tour. The trip cost covered fuel and kastom (landowner) fees, and I believe each of us had to spend 6500 vatu. We spent about 5.5 hours on this tour (including the nearly one-hour transport in each direction as well as the 30-minute drive from the waterfall trailhead to the beach trailhead) starting at 8am and ending at about 1:30pm.
We made sure we left enough time for the separate Mt Yasur twilight excursion (13,125 VT per person), which we believe was the must-do once-in-a-lifetime activity of Tanna Island (let alone Vanuatu itself). The drive took roughly 2 hours in each direction to get from the White Grass Airport to Mt Yasur’s crater. We were dropped off about 150m from the active vent (less than 15 minutes walk). We left the resort at 3pm and returned at about 8:45pm, where the resort accommodated us for the late dinner.
Just to give you an idea of the geography, we stayed on the western side of Tanna Island at the White Grass Ocean Resort and Spa near the airport. We flew here from Port Vila (on the main island of Efate) on a roughly one-hour flight.
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